Cordoban essayist Marcos Aguinis believes that individualism is as much an issue in Argentina as it is in the northern hemisphere, just expressed differently. He argues that where societies in the north believe that keeping rules maximises the freedom of the individual, in Argentina the individual believes that such conventions curtail their freedom. That means that although collectives such as the family are stronger here than in the north, a concept of there existing a society outside of my personal collective is weaker.
Why am I thinking about this? Because I gave blood today and in Argentina nobody in their right minds would be persuaded to give blood merely for the benefit of society. So, the system is, that if you require blood you will need to provide your own blood doners from among your own collective – friends, colleagues, family. On really special occasions, like because you’re already unconscious, the hospital will graciously pour blood into you from their own surplus, but should you regain consciousness the onus will be upon you to replenish the necessary units.
In general Argentinean health care is quite good from what I have seen both in the public and private sectors, and having been inside a few hospitals in Argentina for various reasons (including giving blood a couple of times) I thought I knew what to expect. However, the hospital in San Francisco really is scraping the healthcare barrel, it even made the NHS look like first world medicine (actually the medicine in the NHS probably is first world, it’s the torturous administrative routes to get to it that are more reminiscent of a bygone soviet era, but we digress). Dirty, depressing, poorly signposted, toilets locked shut (not that you’d want to risk using them), dark unventilated corridors packed with waiting parents and their bawling kids… I won’t go on, it’s not pretty.
By the cunning device of asking the policeman at the door, and then being redirected half-way, I managed to locate the haematology lab. There was a rottweiler sitting at the reception desk. “Yes?” “what do you want?” she barked. Stifling the urge to apologise for spoiling her day, I explained that I needed to give blood for my sick friend. “Sit there”. So I did. For an hour. At ten o’clock a guy in a lab coat came out and locked the door, so I ahemmed and he looked surprised to see me. “it’s ten o’clock, we’re closing now” he said. “But I’ve been here since nine o’clock” I said. “Yes, there were a lot of people” he said, to which I almost responded “not while I was here there weren’t” but decided against it. “Come back on Thursday” he said. And that was that.
Combine the above with the other incident involving the three blokes in the corridor who asked where I came from and then proceeded to comment loudly on the Falklands-Malvinas in between comparing the merits of English versus Argentinean pornography and I say thank you for the policeman, the only civil person in entire place as far as I could make out. He even said goodbye to me as I left, let’s hope it’s him on duty again on Thursday.
As part of their orientation programme, Latin Link used to organise a “simulation game” (maybe still do… hope not!) As far as I remember its main messages were about how you can expect to be poorly treated by the rude and marauding natives. It was exaggerated and racist, apparently designed to scare candidates into trusting no-one. And I remembered it today as I was cycling back muttering to myself, because for the first time in fifteen years – yes, I did the Latin Link simulation game for the first (of several) times back in 1994 – so for the first time in fifteen years, the Latin Link simulation game actually came true, which might not have benefitted society very greatly or even at all, but it made me smile a bit.